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Diversity in the Events Industry, are we doing enough?

From the archive: August 19th, 2017 originally published on I’m a Damn Student, What Do I Know?' but found on Medium.

You can also listen to this as a podcast episode here

This is a post that I’ve been thinking about, writing, editing & discussing for literally years. That is no exaggeration — I’ve had this post in my draft folder since 2015.

It’s a BIG topic that has involved a lot of reading, discussions, debates and conversations with many event professions, friends & family. It is also one that has had to look outside of just the events industry bubble.

And don’t worry, I’ve come prepared to have people disagree with me.

Disclaimer: this is a REALLY REALLY long post

Let’s have a conversation about DIVERSITY IN THE EVENTS INDUSTRY, and more specifically WE DOING ENOUGH?

Originally this started as a post about Women in the events industry, but the issue spreads far further than just gender. When you really consider the landscape of the industry we all work in, we have to talk about race, sexuality, disability, and education to name just a few. It is in all of our best interests to work for companies that have a team of people who represent the way the world looks. It is only then that we will be able to bring in thoughts that we’ve previously misrepresented or generalised. A diverse industry means we will be able to create events that people really want to come to.

It means we create events that are not based on generalisation but, rather look to be something worthwhile. Diversity means we have a better perspective of different needs, it enables us to be at the forefront of development and change. But, more than that having a team of people who actually represent the wider population of the world, means we can finally right the many wrongs that we’ve continued because ‘that’s how it has always been done’!

Just to be transparent, and to show where the bias of my opinions might come in, I am a 24-year-old white female. I come from a middle-class household, went to an all-girls secondary school, have received a degree in Events Management. And am fully aware that I have benefited from my white privilege to be in the position I am today.

I’ve been part of this industry for 7 years, but since I graduated and left University 3 years ago, I’ve noticed that whilst we’re all happy to have debates and discussions on a breadth of topics, there is a lack of actual activity to change things afterwards.

Call it life-experience, but over the last couple of years, I’ve become more aware of the lack of representation for anyone who isn’t a white able-bodied individual. Not necessarily within events, but more in day-to-day life.

From the lack of representation in tv-shows to the difficulties of using public transport if you are disabled. That structural racism is something so many people have to deal with when trying to apply for jobs, meetings new people, and just sharing their opinion. That still, across so many industries, women are paid less for doing the same job as a male counterpart. That people still receive backlash for talking openly about sexuality — I mean this list could go on and on.

However, all of those points apply to this industry. The lack of representation at higher management levels, that accessibility can often be lower down on requirements than wi-fi. Really the only times these are called out is when you have people who deal with these issues on a daily basis. When you have diversity in the workplace!

Diversity in events is not a new topic, but rather one that seems to be stuck in endless debates and personally, I am fed up of this being seen as ‘progress’. Let’s be frank — talking about shit doesn’t change anything. Only action will.

There are loads of different paths we can take to start building a more diverse events industry. I’m going to talk about a specific area where I think there is an easy win in being better and changing this industry.

Time to chat about unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias: Research has found that unconscious bias can heavily influence recruitment and selection decisions. Several experiments using CV shortlisting exercises have highlighted bias by gender and ethnicity.

Unconscious bias is something we’re all guilty of doing when our brains make incredibly quick judgements and assessments of people and situations without us realising. These are strongly influenced by our own background, cultural environment and personal experiences. Now, this is an issue across a mammoth number of industries, but just because so many other professions are behind the times it doesn’t mean we are allowed to be on the same page! The event industry is not exempt because progress is stalemate everywhere else When 70% of the industry is apparently made up of women why is there still such a small number who sit on board level positions? If we are focused on creating an industry that reflects the greater population then why are almost all of the top UK event agencies made up of almost solely white event professionals?

This is the point when most people say to me; “Oh, but it is more important to have the right person for the job” The defence of this argument always comes back to “the right person at the right time”, but shit if the only people you are seeing are the same generic white males, then how are you employing the right person?

Please feel free to justify to me how you know the person you are employing is the best person for the job? I’m not doubting that they are extremely able and qualified for the role. But aren’t they just the best person from the group of people you had applying?

The aspect that infuriates and scares me, is this ‘point’ implies that there is nothing that can be done. That the reason most high-level board positions in the events industry are held by people who all look the same is because they were the best people for the job. I don’t want to dismiss the achievements and skills many of these individuals hold, but fundamentally if your answer to the next 2 questions is zero — then you’ve got some work you need to do. How many women did you interview? How many people considered and interviewed for the role was Asian, Black, or Latino?

Because when you send out a job advertisement and have 50 applicants, of which a majority are white, then you have a very small pool of applicants. This is the point where you need to look at where you sent that advert. Understand the data of who might have seen it? How did you target people to apply? What wording was used on the job advert?

If most people who apply are white then maybe you need to look at the language, the way you portray your team on your website.

Because yes, the emphases is on YOU rather the applicants to make sure you bring in a wider pool of people — and only then can you say that is what the right person for the job! Simply, the lack of diversity is a problem.

Saying there is nothing you can do because you’re employing the right person for the job, that’s a cop-out.

I want to introduce you to a fabulous woman called Cindy Gallop. She has one thing to say to women and people of colour who are worried they may get hired just to fill a diversity quota.

“Get over it”

“Look around at the mediocre men who were hired just because they were men. Get hired because you are a woman or person of colour and then do a bloody brilliant job in that role.” Cindy Gallop

She did an interview back in 2015 and I want to share an excerpt with you now.

Some years back there was an article in the Harvard Business Review about a study that was done to examine what the optimum number of women that needed to be on boards, to make a difference to the way of doing business. What this study identified was that tokenism, one woman, is useless. Nothing happens because the organisation has to adapt to the culture around it. That one woman has no choice. She has to become like the white men around her.
Two women are not enough either and in fact there’s a very entertaining story in this article about a board where there were two women and in the course of the board meeting one woman made a very good observation but at the end of the meeting, the male chairman thanked the other woman for it because we look so much alike.
What this study identified was that three or more women on a board or leadership team is the optimum towards critical mass whereby those women feel supported and flanked by each other, able to articulate their own opinions, able to make a difference. Boards with three or more women on them — both the women and the men on the board reported a better quality of discussion, better business decision-making and better business outcomes. — Cindy Gallop

I’ve spoken before about how I personally support quotas.

I think we’ve spent too long discussing the topic and not doing enough to actually change things. Implementing a quota states publicly that there is an issue, and you are working to amend that.

The thing is there is a solution to increase diversity and still enable the point of it being about the best person for the role.

Interview quotas.

Make sure you are interviewing a diverse group of individuals and then pick the best person. Sure, in some circumstances that might be someone who looks just like you. But at least you’ve worked to get the job role out to more people, you’re combating unconscious bias and hell, you may just be surprised about the exceptional talent you will find from looking further a field that the small pool of applicants you currently get.

I’m fully aware that this takes a lot more work. For small companies who need to get roles filled quickly, this adds additional pressure — but we can’t keep putting it off. We cannot just focus on the immediate effects, we need to be thinking long-term. Making real change means putting in work, and it shouldn’t be easy.

There are so many smaller steps we can also make, such as talking to students in secondary school rather than just those studying at university.

Talk to people about the different ways to enter the industry such as through event apprenticeships, that you don’t need a degree to become an event professional. Don’t be afraid to talk about mental health, your sexuality — let’s break down some of these walls and be more transparent so that other people can start to see themselves represented in this industry.

Right now at this point in 2017, the events industry isn’t diverse enough. Discussions, debates and conversations are taking place but not enough is being done to make a real significant change that will challenge the idea of just carrying on with how it has been done before.

Everything I’ve expressed in this piece is my personal opinion. I know I’ve never been in charge of any HR process, or run my own business — sure some of you might just take this to be naive thinking of some youthful individual with not enough life experience.

I’d love to have a conversation about where you think my views are wrong, I want to understand the difficulties of implementing change — because fundamentally I want to find a solution!

It is down to people above the glass ceiling to start hitting just as hard as the ones below, that is the only way we can smash it.

Please share your thoughts below in the comments. This is a conversation I hope could lead to more solutions to creating a truly diverse events industry! @BlogByKobrak

A fantastic book that everyone needs to read is Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race

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